If you do what you have always done, you will get what you have always got
It is crucial to understand that climate change poses uncertainty in every sphere of our lives. Going with the ‘business as usual’ mind-set is no longer an option. The recent global pandemic is just an example of what life may feel like in uncertain times and circumstances. However, every situation in life can be a way to learn something new, unique, or innovative. The current Covid19 Pandemic is no different.
The crisis has pushed students into a home-bound, online education system not just in Bangladesh, but worldwide. Primary, secondary, and higher education institutions are looking for effective ways of delivering the designated lessons for their current semesters. In Bangladesh, the lessons are (mostly) being delivered online through meeting platforms, by email or through television broadcasts. In some cases, hosting classes via video conferencing has proved messy, the infrastructure in rural, remote areas aren’t always capable of supporting lengthy video calls. Furthermore, it has put a strain on the data and credit balance of young people (who in many cases do not have access to broadband/wi-fi and rely solely on mobile data).
We should think about how we can bring the most out of such a crisis in terms of continuing education. Can a blended educational practice hold the key to keeping education on track? The mainstream education system in Bangladesh have long been in need of reforms, such as; shifting away from rote-learning and emphasis on memory over critical analysis of topics, to large (and often unwieldy) classroom of students rather than a more dedicated approach with smaller sizes and more room for discussion and interactions.
Additionally, we could think as far as considering mental health issues and emotional education as part of a “balanced diet” for young people, which had often been ignored in pursuit of high grades and job prospects. In light of these unique circumstances that the pandemic has dumped us all in, why is it so necessary to try and get back to things as they were before, without fully considering if things before were actually effective, beneficial, morally and socially just?
In our sector, climate change and development, the equivalent to formal education is termed as ‘capacity building’, which can range from formal seminars (with presentations and academic experts), to workshops (to discuss and exchange more practical lessons), to trainings (more intensive and task oriented to teach methods/techniques with specific purposes).
Increasingly, it has been a better approach to have a blend of teaching and capacity building techniques, to provide a holistic understanding of topics and allow for better retention of the core ideas (rather than just reciting textbook statistics). The mixed methods approach allows for participants of the sessions to feel more engaged, included and strives to give a better uptake of the intended knowledge and understanding (meaning people are better equipped to apply the teachings and training).
It seems the current ‘lockdown’ conditions will apply to schools, colleges and universities for the remainder of the school year, as per the governments’ instructions, even if other businesses and markets are able to open under revised social guidelines. Therefore, it seems the best option is to try and shift our age-old educational methods and incorporate new and innovative techniques to engage with the youth of today, soon to be the leaders of tomorrow.
How to engage students in online learning?
The current Bangladesh country representative of UNICEF, Tomoo Hozumi mentioned the importance of keeping children connected to their studies is the key to not lose students from schools. To do that, implementing alternative ways to face to face education will be the best option during emergency responses.
While the public TV channels have initiated certain hours for school lessons, it might be better to develop a dedicated broadcast channel that delivers classes throughout the day, as many young people (especially girls) are also engaged in other household activities and chores, so it may allow students a better opportunity if the classes were more flexible in their timings.
Online classes/video conferencing should be in supplement to reading/written assignments on educational topics and allow for interactive discussions to enhance the students’ understanding. This can guide teachers/trainers to understand where the knowledge gaps exist and allow for a more interactive lesson, something that is harder to achieve through one-way broadcasting of lessons, as everyone learns and retains information differently.
Many online platforms allow for video recording of sessions, or even through podcasts (audio recording), which can aid students that lack good internet access and have difficulty attending live sessions. Attending physical classes/being at school is not only necessary for education but also to help young people develop social skills and relationships and maintain peer-peer interactions. Encouraging students to also build ‘peer-peer learning groups’ can aid in deepening their understanding as well as provide support networks for students that are struggling during these new methods.
Teachers, trainers, and educators can rely on a wealth of online materials to help kickstart these virtual learning sessions. From websites that have entire syllabuses, to smaller videos explaining topics, in these times where students lack the intensity of in-person classes, it's imperative that they be guided through a variety of sources and expertise.
Most of the climate change seminars have turned into webinars at present time. These are attracting young people to get involved with climate change scientists and academic experts, policy – makers and development sector professionals. For higher education students, this allows them a broader knowledge base to learn and understand certain topics and expands their thinking and ideas, which is critical to tackling the issues that are likely to develop in their lifetimes.
As a country, it’s critical that we get engaged in the broader discussions on what services need to be made available for young people? What measures can help to shape a more well-rounded learning? It may not be possible to provide all types of teaching, where face to face sessions are more necessary (topics that require special equipment or surroundings), however, attempting to adopt new practices will have a long term benefit of formulating efficient contingency plans and shape our younger generations into becoming future leaders. Better preparation strategies for dealing with current and future crises, those that are more inclusive and participatory for the youth, will set a pathway for better actions and solutions.
Climate Change and Covid-19: Global crises
There have already been multiple parallels being drawn between the current pandemic and the overarching climate change crisis that looms over the world. When we talk about climate change, particularly in Bangladesh, painting a dystopian future becomes effortless.
The strategies to deal with climate change impacts are not so different from the current global crisis. Though it may not require a quarantine/lockdown, but the climate crisis would need a systemic reform of almost every sector and segment of society. That can only be done by educating people (especially the youth) in understanding the severity of the issues and being innovative in what actions and solutions can be applied to them.
Therefore, what is central to developing effective strategies to take climate actions are to engage communities to act as a whole, while being aware of and addressing their unique challenges. In the current context, the youth can also play an integral part in identifying those challenges, brainstorming and initiating solutions that are fit-for-purpose. Including young people in support systems for ‘vulnerable communities’ can not only achieve a more connected link to groups that are often marginalized, but also shape the youth in understanding the inter-linkages between societal and developmental challenges.
With the aid of mobile technology, the youth can relay current shortfalls and highlight areas for improvement that are in line with the needs of the under-privileged and vulnerable communities. Capturing and delivering the information in a variety of formats, story - telling via video, audio or through plain writing, can serve as records and documentation that is necessary in developing effective policies and strategies.
The youth can approach communities which are socio-economically challenged, people that lack access to internet/technology, even engage their own groups and networks which can develop their own skills at establishing social connections, problem/solution analysis, information gathering and fact-finding.
These local context and essential knowledge can serve as discussion topics for addressing in their online seminars, allowing them to better identify their current issues and develop their critical thinking of approaching solutions. This helps in developing their transferable skills and adds value to their overall education and knowledge base.
The schools may be locked down for the remainder of the year, but it’s only the buildings/facilities that are shut, the need for continuing young peoples’ education in more creative methods and future-proofing their knowledge is an indispensable obligation. We cannot stop the learning process during an emergency.
The current state should be seen as good practice and open for experimentation and innovation. Covid19 was not a problem until a few months ago and society cannot deal with it through ‘business-as-usual’ practices. Similarly, the problems our youth will face in future may not exist currently, so it would be folly to think they can tackle them without educating them more critically and creatively.
Jennifer Khadim is working at the International Centre for Climate Change and Development (ICCCAD) as Coordinator of the Youth Programme. Her research interest lies in climate change education and youth.
Saqib Huq is working at the International Centre for Climate Change and Development (ICCCAD) as Coordinator of the Climate Finance Programme and also an advisor to the Youth Programme. His research interest lies in climate finance, youth and sustainability - education.